I said I was proud of her swimming achievements (she is like a little fish) and I was proud of her academic achievements, but that if she could live her life by the message she wore on her new top I would be prouder still.
Because she lives in Australia, I only see her in person once a year or so and when we do meet, we have many deep conversations.
As children are like sponges, I think carefully about what I say to her. I remember my chats with my own granny like it was yesterday. Her little sayings, her special treats, her shared truths, but above all her gentleness, her kindness and the time we spent, just the two of us. So this year I tried to explain to my own eight-year-old grandaughter that the words on her T-shirt would not only make others happy but they would make her happy, too.
If we want to bring an end to prejudice and hatred then liberals need to take the lead, says Nick AhadThe words on that T-shirt were simple: “In a world where you can be anything...Be Kind.” We talked a lot about what it meant. We talked about how people can be unkind and that even when she was older she had to remember that not everyone was kind, so it was important that she was. My granny had a more blunt phrase. “If you can’t say anything nice about anyone, say nothing at all.” I have always thought it to be a simple way to live your life.
Who could have known that just a few weeks after that conversation with my grandaughter Elise, a young woman who had once put that same message on her Instagram page would take her own life? And it would become a mantra for a nation, particularly women.
For Caroline Flack, the world had turned against her, or so she believed. She wrote with searing honesty about her feelings, even before she hit the headlines over a charge of assault by beating. Reading her messages now is desperately sad and prophetic.
She had been at the top of her game. I saw her sing and dance in a lavish production of Crazy For You at the Leeds Grand a couple of years ago. She was fabulous. She was, as my granny would say, not just a pretty face.
Caroline’s Flack’s death must make us stop and think about the judgements we make - Andrea MorrisonCaroline had always struggled with her demons, a fact she acknowledged in another post on World Mental Health Day: “I’m lucky to be able to pick myself up when things feel s**t. But what happens if someone can’t. Be nice to people. You never know what’s going on. Ever.” And that is the truth.
She couldn’t pick herself up. When her friend popped out to the shops she killed herself. Alone. Because that is how she felt, even surrounded by those who loved her and believed in her. And they will never get over it. The tragedy is if only she could have known the strength of support that has emerged since that day, and the collective shock now being expressed.
Not since the death of Princess Diana has there been such an outpouring of grief for a woman most of us had never met, who we only knew through watching her on Strictly Come Dancing and Love Island. The saddest part of this sad story is that had she lived she would have realised that she was not alone.
But did she have to die for people to understand that, just because you are in the public eye, it doesn’t mean you are immune to unkindness?
Being famous is fabulous if the world is with you. It is a lonely place if it turns against you. Caroline wrote in a post she was advised not to publish after her very public humiliation that she had been having an emotional breakdown for a very long time.
The reason she wanted to post her unpublished Instagram message, now shared by her grieving family, was because she couldn’t take any more. “I have lost my job, my home, my ability to speak”, she said. “I can’t spend every day hidden away being told what to say... I’m not thinking about how I am going to get my career back, I’m thinking about how I am going to get my mine and my family’s life back.” And she never did.
Why Pretty Woman’s sexual politics should be left in the past: Christa AckroydAs I know, hitting the headlines is a lonely place. And there were times when I, too, believed life was unbearable. But I got my life back, thanks largely to this column and my family and friends. Caroline’s public destruction, which I actually believe would have played out very differently in court, must now be the change we are looking for to make the world a kinder place.
I totally back the move for Caroline’s Law where trolling becomes a criminal offence. I also wonder what happened to the bedrock of our criminal justice system that one is innocent until proven guilty. I understand why her boyfriend wasn’t allowed to contact her, witnesses for the prosecution are never allowed to contact the accused, but still wonder what would have happened if the Crown Prosecution Service had accepted Caroline’s claim that a terrible argument led to an accidental injury. We will never know.
Now, across the country, there feels to be a movement for change. Local hairdressers are refusing to offer clients “gossip” magazines. Thousands of women are posting on social media that they have each other’s backs, that they are there for each other, in good times and in bad. All we can do is try our hardest, do our best and above all #bekind.
If that is Caroline Flack’s legacy, I pray it gives her family some peace in the dark days ahead and makes us all think about the message on a T-shirt that I bought for a little girl, and one which has since raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for The Samaritans in memory of a troubled woman – if you can be anything in this world, be kind.